“The Boogey Man Took Him”: The Cannibalistic Serial Killer Albert Fish

Albert Fish | Courtesy of Getty Images

Winner of the Spring 2018 StMU History Media Award for

Best Article in the Category of “Crime”

Article with the Best Introduction

 

In today’s society, we are taught at a young age to never speak to strangers without our parents around or by ourselves in general. However, in the late 1920s, it was a different time of danger and being more aggressive in hate crimes and violence. Sadly, those “norms” would erupt in a rise of terror and isolation within Brooklyn, New York. On February 11, 1927, two boys, Billy Gaffney and Billy Beaton, were having fun within their apartment, unsupervised. A few hours passed, both boys could not be found, until someone found Billy Beaton alone on the apartment roof. When asked where Billy Gaffney had gone, he responded with, “The boogey man took him.”1

This “boogey man” who took Billy Gaffney was indeed one’s worst nightmare. Calling him a man certainly does not do justice to the true monster that this “boogey man” Albert Fish was. At fifty-six years old, Albert Fish already had quite a life before that February day in 1927. He had been born on May 19, 1870 in Washington D.C. Originally named Hamilton Fish, Albert was the youngest of his three siblings. However, Fish had no clue as to who he would become. He was raised in a family whose members had mental health issues. His family was mostly illiterate, and to make matters worse, his own mother, when he was at the age of five, put him in an orphanage due to financial problems. Albert’s time in St. Johns Orphanage sparked a dangerous set of behaviors. He was frequently abused and beaten at the orphanage, but he soon developed something of an enjoyment of the feeling of physical pain, often giving him erections.1 In 1879, Albert’s mother was back on her feet financially and able to support Fish again. But Fish went from the abusive environment of the orphanage to a crowd of neighborhood youths who introduced the nine-year-old Fish to the practices of drinking urine, as well as to coprophagia (the act of eating feces or dung). He also started visiting public bath houses to watch young boys undress. Poor Fish’s mother had no idea that in her absence, her son was developing disturbing behaviors.

By 1890, twenty-year-old Fish had moved to New York City. In this part of Fish’s life, his behaviors escalated to rape, sodomy, and then to castration, mostly on male individuals of lower social status, such as African-American males and disadvantage males whom he believed would not be missed.3 He continued his acts of complete horror even after being arranged into a marriage in 1898 with his wife.4

During his marriage, he and his wife had six children together. He never abused his own children in any way, but he did became a house painter and usually targeted homes with young boys aged around six and continued with molestation and a morbid and horrid interest in castration.5 He was then incarcerated in 1903 for embezzlement, which then led to Fish regularly having sex with men in prison. However, his actions led to his divorce from his wife in 1917, who left him for a handyman named John Straube, and taking all of their children. That only made Fish become more sunk into a hole of obsession and terror.6 He began having morbid and frightening thoughts, and developing cravings such as cannibalism in which he enacted upon his victims in murdering them. Surprisingly, he had never been caught committing any of these murders, and if he were ever close to getting caught, he would flee the city. That is, up until Fish made a big mistake, which later helped solve the mysterious disappearance and murder of Billy Gaffney. This was possible through the unfortunately more famous case of the murder of a young girl, Grace Budd.

Flyers sent out by police to find Grace Budd but resulted as unsuccessful | Courtesy of New York Daily News

Grace Budd was an eleven-year-old girl who lived in a farmhouse with her brother, mother, and father. In a newspaper advertisement, Albert Fish found a man by the name of Edward Budd looking for a job. Fish then marked Edward Budd to be his next victim.7 Soon after, Fish responded to the newspaper ad by posing as a wealthy farmer named Frank Howard in need of help on his farm, and he began to be friendly with the Budd family.8 Fish’s plans, however, had switched after he discovered Edward Budd had a younger sister Grace, who seemed to be far more vulnerable than Edward had been. This is when Fish began to create a disgusting and horrible scheme to capture the young Grace Budd. Fish convinced the parents to let Grace accompany him to his sisters’ birthday party, which he completely fabricated.9 Fish took Grace and she never returned home after that day. Only after seven years, on November 11, 1934, were the details to what had happened to innocent Grace discovered. Fish sent a letter to the parents of Grace Budd detailing what he had done to her.8 To their horror, he confessed that he cooked parts of her to taste her flesh. He detailed her last moments, describing the torture and truly horrid acts Fish had committed upon her before Grace Budds’ final moments on earth. One would hope that Fish would end the letter on that horrifying and heart breaking note; however, he then described the process of preparing her body to feast upon, the parts of the body he had used, the taste of their daughters’ flesh and how he found her taste so satisfying. He then included at the end of the letter how he left her a virgin, as if that would lighten the terrible acts that he had committed on the young and innocent Grace Budd and her family.11

It was only through this tragic incident that justice came about for Albert Fish’s horrendous act of murder. Fish’s letter to the Budd family was just enough evidence to find and capture him. Detective William King helped track down and arrest Albert Fish using symbols on the stationary he used to write to the Budd family, “N.Y.P.C.B.A.” standing for “New York Private Chauffeur’s Benevolent Association.” King successfully located where it had come from, tracing it back to a room at 200 East 52nd Street from a janitor who had moved from there. This location was the exact place where Fish came frequently to receive his mail. Finally, this helped investigator William F. King pinpoint exactly where Albert Fish would be; waiting right outside of his room.12

Detectives uncover remains of bones of Grace Budd in location where Albert Fish confessed to | Courtesy of New York Daily News

Fish was captured and taken in for questioning. During questioning, Fish admitted to murdering Grace Budd and confessed to the investigators exactly where he had buried the remains of Grace Budd. They were able to locate Grace Budd’s bones, which were located behind Wisteria Cottage, an abandoned house in Westchester County.  Fish then confessed to eating parts of Budd’s body, as well as to the murder of Billy Gaffney, including the torment he had done to Billy.8 After Fish’s arrest, he did not care for the consequences and looked very much forward to having his penalty be death. In March 1935, Fish pleaded sane but guilty.14 The court decided that he was sane, and accepted his plea of guilt.15.

Albert Fish before his court trial 3/12/1935 | Courtesy of Bettmann/CORBIS

Fish was executed on January 16, 1938 in the electric chair in Sing Sing Prison. Even to his death he continued his bizarre behavior, exclaiming that being electrocuted would be “the supreme thrill” of his life.9. Therefore, Albert Fish had never really suffered any consequences. Even to his death, Albert Fish took pleasure in his morbid thoughts and ultimately met the peak of his horrid obsession.

  1. Murderpedia: The Encyclopedia of Murderers, June 2017, s.v. “Albert Fish,” by Juan Ignacio Blanco.
  2. Murderpedia: The Encyclopedia of Murderers, June 2017, s.v. “Albert Fish,” by Juan Ignacio Blanco.
  3. Martin Fido, True Crime: The Infamous Villains of  Modern History and Their Hideous Crimes (United Kingdom: Carlton Publishing Group, 2013), 186.
  4. Murderpedia: The Encyclopedia of Murderers, June 2017, s.v. “Albert Fish,” by Juan Ignacio Blanco.
  5. “Evil serial killer known as the Brooklyn Vampire who kidnapped children and cut them up and ATE them, known as the Gray Man and the Werewolf of Wisteria murderer Albert Fish was one of the most twisted serial killers,” Daily Mirror, The: Web Edition Articles (September 2017): 9.
  6. Murderpedia: The Encyclopedia of Murderers, June 2017, s.v. “Albert Fish” by Juan Ignacio Blanco.
  7. Murderpedia: The Encyclopedia of Murderers, June 2017, s.v. “Albert Fish,” by Juan Ignacio Blanco.
  8. Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia, 2017, s.v. “Albert Fish,” by Bernadette L. Bosky.
  9. Murderpedia: The Encyclopedia of Murderers, June 2017, s.v. “Albert Fish” by Juan Ignacio Blanco.
  10. Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia, 2017, s.v. “Albert Fish,” by Bernadette L. Bosky.
  11. Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia, 2017, s.v. “Albert Fish,” by Bernadette L. Bosky.
  12. Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia, 2017, s.v. “Albert Fish,” by Bernadette L. Bosky.
  13. Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia, 2017, s.v. “Albert Fish,” by Bernadette L. Bosky.
  14. Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia, 2017, s.v. “Albert Fish,” by Bernadette L. Bosky.
  15. Salem Press Encyclopedia of Science, 2013, s.v. “Irresistible impulse rule.” By Mario Morelli.
  16. Murderpedia: The Encyclopedia of Murderers, June 2017, s.v. “Albert Fish” by Juan Ignacio Blanco.
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79 Comments

  • I found this article scary because of Albert Fish’s obsession and how he committed the murders. I never heard of a man who subjected people to castration, murder people who he thinks will not be missed, and resort to cannibalism for pleasure. At the end of the article, I found it odd because Fish wanted to plead guilty and enjoy his death sentence. Normally, a person would try to prove they were innocent. But in Fish’s case, he admitted to crimes he committed. Overall, this article was good, well-written, and informative.

  • Congrats on your nomination and this is a great article. The crimes this man committed are horrible and to think that it all steamed from his childhood makes one think who else could this be in todays time. i have never heard of Albert Fish until reading this article and cannot believe the things he did, but i found it strange that he did not target his own kids. I guess even the worse of people still have a soft spot.

  • While reading this article it brought chills through my body of a real life bogeyman. Albert had a rough childhood that made him become the person he was growing up. It was horrific reading about the things he would do to boys and men. I was surprised that he didn’t harm his children or his wife, I guess it was because he didn’t want them to experience what he had gone through but who knows. Overall this was a good and detailed article.

  • It is a weird feeling to comment on my own article, however, I couldn’t believe i never went to look over to such detail as my many grammatical errors that could have been so easily fixed. Overall, i appreciate all feed back from everyone’s comments and hope to continue fixing my errors in my future articles to come!

  • My eyes were glued to this article from the start! Reading the horrifying things he did gave me chills all the way through. I have never heard or seen the name Albert Fish until now. It’s crazy seeing how it started ever since he was younger. I’m surprised with the amount of time it took until he was finally caught. It’s hard to feel like justice was done, only because he did get caught and was punished for his actions but Fish still enjoyed his consequence due to the thrill he would get from being electrocuted.

  • although there seem to be a few minor grammatical errors, I still cannot get that oddly chilling image of Albert fish out of my mind. the horrifying acts that were committed by this man were well-utilized throughout the article to give off a very serious sense of dread that was well realized and hit on multiple times. the author played to his strengths with this awesome yet grueling article I won’t soon forget.

  • I would have liked to hear what happened in the case of Bill Gaffney. Was he or his remains ever found? Did Albert confess to abducting the young boy? Anyways, this had the potential to be a very gruesome piece, but you handled it with the right amount of detail. How incredibly horrible to hear that this man was depraved enough to send a letter like that to the grieving family.

    • Billy Gaffney’s remains were never found, and I believe I had mentioned during Fish’s trial he had confessed to murdering Billy Gaffney. I appreciate your internal thoughts on the article, thank you for reading!

  • Upon reading this article again with more attention, it is unbelievable that because of his environment as a child led to his adult behavior as a serial killer. I can not even fathom to understand just how Grace’s parents much have felt and reacted to the letter describing her murder and her flesh. It is crazy to know that people like Albert Fish are really out there, and are not just some fictional character in a horror movie.

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